Managing Cover Crops with Rolling and Crimping Techniques
McGinnis September 3, 2008
Rolling hay, rye and other cover crops could be the fastest way for
some farmers to prepare their fields for planting. That's thanks to rolling
machines--developed by Agricultural Research
Service (ARS) scientists--that can quickly flatten mature, high-biomass
cover crops such as rye.
Each roller consists of a long cylinder adorned with a series of
thick, blunt, steel crimping bars, each about one-quarter-inch thick. As a
standard tractor pulls the roller over the field, pressure from the bars
flattens and damages the cover crop without cutting or uprooting it. Within
three weeks, the rolled cover crop dries out, forming a mat of dead biomass
into which farmers can plant cash crops.
Since 2001, ARS has been conducting research to find the best crimping
roller design for conditions in the southeastern United States, and the
benefits from this research are gaining recognition.
Raper and their colleagues at the agency's
Soil Dynamics Laboratory (NSDL) in Auburn, Ala., compared three different
roller designs. The first roller has a traditional design with long, straight,
horizontal bars. The second has diagonal bars that curve around the roller. The
third has a smooth drum attached to a crimping bar that mashes the rye as the
machine moves forward.
NSDL scientists, who developed the curved-bar and crimping roller
designs, found that all three models killed enough rye--90 percent or more--to
enable farmers to begin planting cash crops in the field within three weeks.
The crimping-bar roller yielded the best results.
The scientists also found that the curved-bar and the crimping rollers
provided smoother rides than the traditional straight-bar roller. Future
studies will help scientists maximize the efficiency and comfort of these
The one-pass process saves money, reduces soil erosion and runoff,
helps control weeds, conserves water in the soil and decreases or eliminates
the need for herbicides.
about the research in the September 2008 issue of Agricultural Research
ARS is a scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.